The rarest of Australian art in Menzies auction

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 8th December, 2015

The usual high profile modern artists – led by John Brack’s Adagio 1967-69 (lot 41) with a $600,000-$800,000 estimate – are guaranteed to pull a large auction crowd at Menzies final sale for the year from 6.30pm Thursday December 10 at 12 Todman Avenue, Kensington in Sydney.

Possibly of greater interest is a group of seven rare works by colonial painter Thomas Tyrwhitt Balcombe (1810-1861) who was born on St Helena – home of exiled French Emperor Napoleon – before moving in 1824 with his family to Sydney, where his father had been appointed colonial treasurer.

Six years later, Balcombe became a professional artist with the Surveyor General’s Department, involving a great deal of travel throughout the colony.

An eyewitness and recorder by nature, his early paintings of Aboriginal subjects are keenly sought by both institutional and private collectors because they provide quality information about a way of life now lost.

Although admired in his own lifetime, Balcombe’s work is very rare – with only eight being offered for auction since art market records began in 1970.

There are several fine examples by collector favourites such as Jeffrey Smart, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Robert Dickerson.

The catalogue cover features William Robinson Farmyard Scene with Goats and Cows 1983 (lot 36) and lot 40 is Fred Williams Bush Road with Cootamundras 1977.

Menzies head of art Tim Abdallah believes Robinson is one of Australia’s most important living artists and heir to the great tradition of Australian landscape painters who include Eugene von Guerard, Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Boyd and Williams.

The Farmyard series is among his most admired works. 

Probably Australia’s most valued artist, Brett Whiteley, is represented by an ink on paper drawing of Sydney Harbour from Lavender Bay Wind from the East (lot 28).

John Olsen (Australia’s most expensive living artist) has Moon and Wattle Blossom Night (lot 47), which could be one of the bargains of the auction.

For collectors not wanting to spend massive amounts on art Brack’s rare portrait etching Head of a Woman 1954 (lot 1 - estimate $8000-12,000) is great value. 

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